Battlefield heroes: Jack Chevigny

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 23, 2007



 
Mix Ronald Reagan with Forrest Gump and you have the life story of Jack Chevigny. You probably never heard of him, but he found himself in the middle of some of the most famous moments of football and military history.
 
Chevigny was a running back for Notre Dame in the late 1920s. In 1928, his team was getting soundly thrashed by Army in a game that was not as close as the 6-0 halftime score would indicate. As Chevigny and his mates sat beaten in the locker room, coach Knute Rockne delivered the most famous pep talk in sports history, urging his players to "go out there and give it all they've got, and win just one for the Gipper" – for George Gipp, the Notre Dame star who died of pneumonia in 1920. Gipp, of course, was later played in the film "Knute Rockne: All American" by Reagan, who peppered his political life with references to the player.
 
Chevigny did his part to honor the memory of Gipp, scoring the first tying touchdown in what turned into a surprising and now legendary 12-6 come-from-behind victory over a powerful Army team. "That's one for the Gipper," said Chevigny as he crossed the goal line, at least according to Irish lore.
 
He rose to fame on the strength of that score. He did not play in the NFL but by 1932 – before he had even turned 30 – he was given the head coaching job of the then-Chicago Cardinals. The team went just 2-6-2 and Chevigny was out of pro football the following year.
 
But he ended up with a much more prestigious job at a time when college football ruled the land. Chevigny became the head coach at the University of Texas.
 
Chevigny was not a particularly successful college coach, either, and was gone from Texas after three seasons and a 13-14-2 record. In fact, he's the only coach in Longhorns history with a career losing record. But he had another moment of glory in his second game as coach, beating his alma mater, 7-6, in 1934. At the end of his promising first season, which ended with a 7-2-1 record, Chevigny was presented with an inscribed pen in honor of the achievement: "To a Notre Dame boy who beat Notre Dame."
 
Chevigny was out of football after the 1936 season and used his Texas connections to move into the oil business. Like many others of his era, he gave up his career when the U.S. entered World War II.
 
In February 1945, Chevigny found himself among the first waves of U.S. Marines to storm the beaches at Iwo Jima.
 
Within 24 hours, he was dead. Some reports say he was shot by a sniper. The 1946 NFL record book, meanwhile, says he was killed by a direct shell hit as he took cover in a bomb crater. (NFL represetantives were kind enough to provide for us this information from the 1946 guide.)
 
In early September 1945, six months after the Chevigny was killed, American and Japanese officials boarded the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor to sign the peace treaty that would bring World War II to a formal end.
 
According to Notre Dame sources, a Japanese envoy was about to sign the surrender documents when Americans noticed he had a pen that bore an English-language inscription. 
 
That's right. The pen read: "To a Notre Dame boy who beat Notre Dame."
 
Chevigny apparently carried the pen with him into battle on Iwo Jima. According to legend, it somehow it ended up in the hands of the enemy and made its way off the island and up the chain of command and onto the ship on which World War II officially came to an end.
 
The pen was brought back to the United States and, legend has it, the inscription was changed to read: "To Jack Chevigny, a Notre Dame boy who gave his life for his country in the spirit of old Notre Dame."
 
***
Also see:
 
Hero of Iwo Jima: Jack Lummus – N.Y. Giants end and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor; killed on Iwo.

Hero of Iwo Jima: Howard "Smiley" Johnson – Green Bay Packers end honored for heroism in two World War II battles; killed on Iwo.

Badass American mo-fos – A look at the toughest, ballsiest men in American military history.

Love football? Thank those who fought and died for America– Football is intricately intertwined into American culture, a unique sport played by a historically unique country.
 
The NFL's war dead – 26 members of the NFL have been killed in combat from World War II to Afghanistan.

Pro Football Hall of Fame list of WWII veterans – 995 members of the NFL served in the military in World War II, including some of the biggest names in the history of the game.

Pro Football Hall of Fame list of Korean War veterans  – 200 members of the NFL served in the military in the Korean War, including Hall of Famers such as Ollie Matson and Night Train Lane.

Pro Football Hall of Fame list of Vietnam War veterans  – 28 members of the NFL served in the military during the Vietnam War, including Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner, Ray Nitschke and Roger Staubach.

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